Although he was divorced, overweight, and balding, sneaked a cigarette puff on occasion, drove a 1963 truck missing half a floorboard and ate dirt to teach his athletes how to be tough, my brother David loved the Lord and made everyone feel like the most important person on earth.
It's been nine years this week since his death, and sometimes, like today, I look for him to pull into my driveway and join me on the front porch for a glass of tea and a short visit.
Many of you readers might remember him. If so, you know he brought energy and life to every situation: to faculty meetings where administrators would shake their heads when he would "make a movement" instead of a "motion" to vote for a change in school policy; to basketball games where he would tell his players they would be benched if their parents yelled one more negative comment at them; to trips around town in his beloved truck, the one with the rear-view mirror neatly tucked under the driver's seat and pulled out when needed. Twenty years of coaching and hundreds of lives changed. More encouraging notes written to students' parents in one year than I've written in my entire educational career. It's no surprise David won teaching and coaching awards and that a scholarship and a building were named after him.
Like I said, those are things you probably know.
What you might not know about my brother is that it was he who, when our son left home because he couldn't live with our rules anymore, went with me to bring him back. It was he who took me dancing on New Year's Eve because my husband and sons were in Australia playing baseball and I was alone (and then thought it funny when rumors started, saying I had been seen with "another man" instead of my husband). It was he who was the spark in our family, the son/brother/father who made everyone laugh, the one who was six years from retiring and moving to his dream cabin in Colorado.
David was just getting out of debt after a decade of working two summer jobs as well as coaching and teaching for 20 years.
He had yet to hold a grandchild, even though he had spent his life loving others' children. Most of his former students and athletes -- like so many in our community -- looked upon him as a father-figure who always encouraged them to be their best. He saw everyone as extraordinary.
His end was as epic as was his life. While cutting wood in his pasture, something went wrong, and David was impaled on a 15-inch log protruding from a dead tree stump. Somehow he had been able to drive his standard-shift, pick-up truck 1 1/2 miles back to his house (opening two cattle gates in the process), place his beloved chainsaw in its case and call 911. Somehow he managed to be standing, with at least seven inches of log protruding from his right side, when the rescue helicopter landed in his pasture. Somehow he had survived the surgeries, one involving the removal of the affected lung and the other to remove the infected splinters left inside his chest cavity.
Somehow he hung in that induced coma for a week until we received the news for which we had been praying. There was a surgical team in St. Louis that could operate, removing the muscles in his back to fill the gap where the lung had been. That night, David was loaded onto a medic flight. Somewhere en route, he died.
Following his death, I received hundreds of cards, most containing stories about the impact this larger-than-life man had on the writer. The funeral director told me he had never seen such a diverse group of people at his wake, and it was estimated that there were between 1,500 and 2,000 people at his funeral. Not because he was wealthy or good-looking. Not because of his power or position. It was none of the things we find important; rather, it was what Jesus found important: to love others humbly and sacrificially. It was as simple as that.